Monday, January 24, 2011

Friday Lunch at Paramount, posted January 24, 2011

It seems that every downtown block in Toronto has at least one hole-in-the-wall takeout shop featuring interchangeable menus starring  falafel and shawarma. They are for the most part the human equivalent of gas stations:  places to refuel in totally forgettable surroundings. Unlike a gas station, the" fuel" sold in these places is affordable.

Recently opened neighbour of the Hard Rock Cafe, the downtown Toronto Paramount is part of a mini-chain of Middle Eastern restaurants with locations in Mississauga and Thornhill. An enthusiastic customer--both of the Cookbook Store and Paramount--encourages us to check it out.

By the standards of similar Middle Eastern restaurants, the decor is opulent. For people who like to eat in, this is the place to consume falafel or shawarma.  We, of course, go the takeout route.

The Designated Courier comes back with two plates:  mixed grill of beef and chicken which includes rice and a bread(aka pita) basket; chicken and beef shawarma plate which again includes pita .  On this plate, there are some truly terrible French fries which after one sampling, are unceremoniously dumped in the garbage.  The other starches, both rice and pita, are excellent.  The grains of rice are nicely separated and not overly salty and the pitas are still puffed from the oven--not made on the premises but reheated. Like the fries, the garnishes of pickled turnip and cucumber are pale and flaccid. Leave them off or get a new supplier, please.

Chicken seems to be Paramount's strong point.  The chicken--chunks on the mixed grill, and shreds on the shawarma,is perfect with nicely caramelized exterior but still juicy and tender within.  Our opinions are divided on the beef from the mixed grill with two of us finding it overcooked and tough while the third thinks it is fine. The shawarma beef is quite acceptable. There is another extra on the plates, an extremely garlicky sauce much like the Greek skordalia which is a great accompaniment to both beef and chicken.

We also disagree on the zaatar-topped manakeesh. The Levantine version of pizza can be topped with cheese, meat or the popular Middle Eastern/North African herbal mix, zaatar ,with sesame, herbs, usually including sumach, and salt. Both acidic and bitter, zaatar is for most people outside of the southern side of the Mediterranean, an acquired taste. Those of us who liked it thought it was the best we have had in Toronto.

We skipped dessert since most of the usual filo-based desserts were on offer by the kilo!

Although the chicken was excellent, not all of the food lived up to expectations while costing more than many Middle Eastern takeouts.
Cost: Two plates and a manakeesh came to $33.95.

253 Yonge Street, Toronto

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